Analysis: Medicare imaging spending trends down, not up

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An analysis of Medicare data released by the Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance (MITA) found that Medicare spending on medical imaging continues to decline and that Medicare patients are receiving fewer imaging procedures.

The report shows that spending on imaging services for each Medicare beneficiary has dropped 13.2 percent since 2006 when imaging-specific reimbursement cuts from the Deficit Reduction Act began to be implemented. Imaging utilization per beneficiary declined by 3 percent in 2010.

Spending for non-imaging Medicare services has grown by 20 percent since 2006 and utilization increased 2 percent in 2010, according to MITA.

“This analysis confirms the downward trend in both imaging spending and utilization in Medicare that has occurred in recent years,” David Fisher, executive director of MITA, said in a statement. “The assumption that life-saving diagnostic imaging and radiation therapy are increasing healthcare costs is simply not true.”

Imaging is now a smaller portion of Medicare spending than it was at the turn of the century, according to the analysis.

“These findings counter the conventional wisdom among some policymakers that spending for imaging services in the Medicare program is growing,” wrote the authors. “It also specifically contradicts the notion that imaging is adding to the rising financial burden on taxpayers and beneficiaries, as Medicare imaging spending per beneficiary is actually declining.”

Congress and the Administration have cut imaging reimbursements seven times in six years, according to MITA. The Congressional Budget Office originally estimated that the Deficit Reduction Act would result in approximately $500 million in reimbursement cuts to medical imaging in its first year, though a later re-estimate found those cuts to have been closer to $1.6 billion, according to the report.

“According to these data, the goal of bending the cost curve has indeed been achieved for medical imaging,” said John A. Patti, MD, chair of the American College of Radiology Board of Chancellors. “Any further reductions would represent socially irresponsible policy.”

Claims data analyzed for the report were tabulated by Christopher Hogan, PhD, of Direct Research.